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Lies, Mistakes, and Blessings: Defining and Characteristic Features in Conceptual Development

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In this study, we examined the extent to which young children can be influenced by the perceived blessed status of an actor in their evaluations of behavior as a lie or mistake. Children aged 4 and 5 years attending Catholic schools in an urban center in Northern Italy were provided with a situation in which two girls in church were blessed with holy water ("blessed condition") or shook the priest's hand ("not blessed"). The girls were then placed in a setting in which each told a third girl that contaminated juice was good to drink: one deliberately lied and the other had no knowledge of the contaminant and made a mistake. Significantly more children judged both girls to have made a mistake in the blessed condition than in the not blessed condition. Their accuracy in distinguishing mistakes from lies in the not blessed condition resembled that reported in previous research in which traits such as blessedness (or its absence) were not assigned to the perpetrators. Thus children often perceived lying as uncharacteristic of the blessed whereas they applied the definition of lying as involving intentional falsehood for the not blessed. The results are discussed in terms of an early cultural cognition that involves beliefs about processes of purification and positive contagion.

Affiliations: 1: University of Sheffield.; 2: University of Padua.; 3: Arizona State University.; 4: University of Queensland.


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